The Lifestyle Brand

OK, let’s chat about this.

And this.

When you watch these videos, what is your first thought? “First up against the wall” or “I want?”

2020! Bang!

Well, the new year is opening up to a continent up in flames, a potential world war with an unstable country, and personal chaos here at Apt. 11D.

In late November, Ian had a little seizure. He drooped out of a chair right in front of me. It lasted only a couple of seconds, but it was alarming. I called doctors, and the tests started.

The weekend, he had a 48-hour EEG test. I picked him up from school on Friday afternoon and took him to the neurologist’s office. The technician wired his head up with about two dozen electrodes that were glued to his head. Then she covered it up with gauze. He said he looked like a nun. The wired snaked down his back and connected with an satchel that recorded his brain waves.

We also got a camera with a small tripod that recorded him all day. He carried the camera from room to room setting it up on nearby desks and tables. At night, he switched that camera to infrared mode, so even his sleep was recorded.

Because we were grounded for the weekend, I decided to tackle some big chores. We rented a steamer from Home Depot, and Steve, Jonah, and I stripped wallpaper from the office and our bedroom. It’s going to take another couple weekends to finish stripping, spackling, and painting, so I’m living in a construction zone right now. My office has been temporarily moved to a family room. I hope I can concentrate in a new space.

Yesterday, I dropped off the equipment at the office. I didn’t expect to hear from the doctor to the end of the week. Because he hasn’t had any other incidents, I believed that we were going to get a shrug from the doctor. I really thought that she was going to tell us that that this was a one-time thing and not to worry.

But then the office called me at 4:00 and asked if we could get there at 5:15. I did 10,000 steps just pacing around my living room.

Short story. He has epilepsy. And we have to do an MRI in a couple of weeks to rule out a tumor.

I just took on a quickie writing project to distract me for the next week. I’ll be back here, but blogging will have to take a backseat to home and work priorities until we sort things out. My life is a construction zone right now.

The Slacker Boys of Generation Z

The 20-something writers who cover education on the national stage might have more time and energy than this old girl, but I have a few tools in my arsenal as well. My greatest advantage is that I don’t see the school beat as a stepping stone onto other topics. I like schools and have studied them for years, so I’m not putting tons of energy into learning about health care or the military. Schools get all my brain power.

Another advantage that I have is that I’m a parent. There’s nothing like experiencing a situation first hand to give one a good spidey sense about whether a topic is going to be hot or whether a new report is totally off base.

I’m not just a parent. I’m an active parent, who participates in school functions and parent organizations, and regular attends school board meetings. I’m also hopelessly social, so I regularly talk to other parents about their kids. All these experience provide article and blog fodder.

Over the past holidays, I bounced around various cocktail parties and learned some good stuff. One parent of a college-aged boy told me that she was disappointed with her son’s efforts in school. She said that he has been talking more and more about looking at alternatives to college. He and his friends have discussed the fact that they aren’t interested in following in their parents’ footsteps of BAs from prestigious colleges and good paying jobs that put them into suburbs like this one. They want a more laid-back life style.

She mentioned a kid — a son of a friend of a friend type of thing — who was a surfer in California living out of his car. His parents would have paid the rent for an apartment, but the kid (anybody under 25 is still a kid to me) preferred to live a simple life out of his car. He didn’t see the point in paying someone rent for a place that he didn’t need.

She wondered if kids today were rejecting our modern suburban lifestyles. Was this a return to the Gen X slacker days? Was it happening because there’s just so much stress and anxiety in their culture today? Were they going to move to more laid-back areas of the country, because the cost of living is so high around here.

Her question didn’t seem way off, since lots of other people are clearly avoiding are area. New York State is losing population is such numbers, that they might lose Congressional house seats.

Or maybe it’s a boy thing. I was chatting with people on Twitter this morning about an article that said that boys are alienated from schools today. Now that I finished my marching band article (coming soon), I’m going to do a series of article about the college dropout problem. One facet of that discussion is that boys are dropping out at greater rates than girls.

There’s been some small buzz about Gen Z and college, but I think we’re going to start seeing more stats on this soon. I talked to a girl last year, who told me how annoyed she was by her college education, so maybe it’s not just a girl thing. I’m going to ask more questions about all this soon.

If all this is true, I’m not upset. A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing. If the status quo sucks, then I hope that young people say “fuck it” and cause disruption.

Internet Slow Down

Over the past 16 years that I’ve monitored traffic statistics on this blog, I’ve learned several things: 1. People have a hard time getting their brains back to work on Mondays, so they use the Internet to procrastinate for a while. 2. People use their summers for good stuff, like vacations, and unplug. 3. People are too busy to look at the Internet between mid-December and January 2nd. 4. But after January 2, they’re back looking at their screens.

Online writers, like myself, and editors are probably the ones that look at unplugged time as bad things. We demand your eyeballs! I had an article accepted in late December, but everyone decided to hold it until January 2. I have to do some serious cuts on it before then, so I should get in a couple of hours this morning.

Then I have to prep the kitchen for more cooking, because friends are stopping by. We’re doing a super casual dinner with Steve, my mom, and I all making something different at the same time. Short ribs and polenta are on the menu, along with lots of other little stuff. I can’t get too loaded, because I’m running a 5K tomorrow morning at 11am.

Here are some things that we’ve been talking about IRL:

Obama’s best of books, movies and TV shows of 2019. While I was watching Fleabag, I kept thinking, “I’m going to have watch this all for a second time.” It was THAT good. We’re in the midst of Watchmen and loving it. We also enjoyed: Working Moms, Game of Thrones, Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, and Russian Doll.

The crazy dude who stabbed people at the Rabbi’s house in Monsey is a big topic here, because we live about twenty minutes from Monsey. My brother, who is a local reporter, spends a lot of time covering similar communities in the area. Anti-semitism is disgusting and should be called out with equal vigor as other forms of prejudice.

Check out the house where Harry and Megan spent the holidays.

What are you all doing for New Year’s Eve?

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Hi guys. I’m probably taking the week off. Between cooking and entertaining, there isn’t going to be too much time to spend here. I’ll be back the following Monday with pictures of The Feast of Fishes, new dresses, and boys in suit jackets. And some thoughts about the impeachment, for sure.

Please have a joyous week whatever your holiday flavor! Tell me what you’re doing, please. I love hearing stories from the readers.

Parenting Philosophy

Here’s an except of my latest newsletter. (Sign up, folks!)

 When Steve and I started our family, we were still in graduate school. Having kids while we were working on our dissertations was not in the original plan, but it took a whole lot longer to get to the writing stage of our dissertation than expected. 
In Jonah’s first year, we alternated dissertating and baby minding (morning shift for me, afternoon for him). We kept paid work to a minimum in order to finish as quickly as possible; Steve taught one or two classes at the Bronx Community College, and I left my job at the policy center entirely. We survived on WIC checks and help from my folks. 
Since we couldn’t afford to go out or have a social life, we spent a lot of our downtime gazing down at our new baby imagining his future, as most new parents do. With (soon to be) PhDs parents, we figured that our blond babe would be a school super star. After all, we had hacked school, so we imagined that we could pass down those tricks to him and the doors to Harvard would open wide. A couple of years later, Ian came along, and we eventually learned that one of the downsides to assorted mating is an increased chance of autism. 
 As the kids moved through elementary school, Steve and I used our education to help the kids, but not in the way that we expected – the unexpected is a huge theme in my life. 


At some point, when Jonah was in middle school, we began to resent the massive presence that school had in our lives. Homework took up whole evenings. Entire weekends were spent on a soccer field or a track field or some other after-school activity. Our kid’s happiness was dependent on his grade on his history exam. Family conversations around the dinner table involved homework, tests, and grades. Forgotten homework would lead to angry conversations. Why were random and, often times, dumb assignments was having an impact on my relationship with my son?
Home schoolers often leave the public school system, because they don’t like the secular or liberal values that are passed onto the kids from the teachers. While the thought of spending years cooped up with my kids gives me hives, I do have a lot of sympathy for those who want to opt out of the system. Because the system is grinding kids up. It makes them jump over arbitrary hoops and assigns marks on their jumping skills. If they were learning worthwhile stuff, okay maybe, but lots of times, the things that were learning was worthless. 
Sometimes Jonah would bring home an assignment in social studies on a topic that Steve or I know super well, like the Federalist Papers or the interwar years in Germany. We would have to reteach those topics to Jonah, because we didn’t feel like the teacher knew his/her stuff. Lately, Ian’s been working on some really crappy writing organizer that’s supposed to teach him how to write paragraphs. I write for a living; no professional writers uses that sentence-evidence-sentence-evidence formula. 

In the end, we used our education to un-educate our kids. We were forced to offer a counter balance to the dystopian world of the modern teenager. We took both boys to do fun things that had absolutely nothing to do with achievement and winning. We went to museums, because we just like learning about stuff. We went for hikes, where we looked at snakes, and jumped over creeks. We wandered into restaurants on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, because eating new foods is fun. 
My education did come in handy, when we realized that Ian had autism, and I had to learn a whole bunch of special education laws really quickly, in order to advocate for him in the best way possible. I’ve also “scienced the hell out of” his unique brain, but that’s a story for another day. Mostly we used our educations to show the kids that there is a lot to learn outside of school and that learning new things was awesome and didn’t need a reward. 
The heavy shadow of the school building is felt strongest in upper middle class communities like ours. Stress and the heavy demands from school is a form of privilege in a way. But for the kids who are dealing with some toxic cocktails of stress and depression, it’s simply horrible. I know five and six year old kids who are having meltdowns in schools about stress right now. This is child abuse, plain and simple. 
Schools are products of their communities, so administrators are ratcheting up expectations and pressure in response to parent demands (and in response to town officials who want high school rankings to maintain real estate value). And communities like ours are scared shitless about the future for their kids. They’re worried that their kids aren’t going to get a ticket on the middle class train without perfect grades and an acceptance letter to a top college. They’re so worried about it that they’ll put themselves in massive debt to pay those private school tuitions, and send their kids to high schools that ruin them emotionally.
So, we pushed back. Not entirely. Our oldest got decent grades and was in a varsity sport, but we resisted school demands enough to be subtly subversive. We decided that it was more important than our kids were sane and happy, rather then they win a perfect SAT score. We tried to not let schools drive our family life. Because schools should be a side dish, not the main course of a family. 
Every family should have their own things that make them happy, that define them, that bind each other together. We like art museums and hikes, but for other families, it might mean Mets games or fishing trips or baking. I’m agnostic about those family definitions, as long as it’s not school. We can’t abdicate the joy and the creativity of raising a family to a government bureaucracy that won’t remember your kid’s name next year. 
My philosophy? Kids and family first. Schools last, by a lot. 

Holiday Week Panic Attack

Who’s having a meltdown? I am! I am!

Okay, it’s mostly irrational. I can do everything, but it just feels very overwhelming. Ian has to be transported to his far-away school to work the AV equipment at a show tonight. (First time. Fingers crossed.) Tomorrow is his band concert, so that means that Steve will need to pre-tie his tie this evening. I’ve done it before with the help of a YouTube tutorial, but a Windsor knot is not one of my strengths.

There’s a very ragged x-mas list in my purse that still has some items to be purchased. Gift cards for his aide and tutors have to be purchased and packaged. Jonah’s coming home tonight, so the fridge needs to be filled. There are still bins surrounding the half decorated tree. I have no idea what I’m going to cook for Christmas Eve. The office has to be cleaned out and the guest bed arranged for the in-laws, who arrive on Sunday.

There’s work, too. I wrote a personal essay about Ian and marching band that I have to shop around. At 2:00, I’m watching a webinar about reading reforms. I have to write Friday’s newsletter. It was mostly written in my brain, but with all the stress, my words evaporated. I can’t even remember the topic.

Yesterday, I checked some chores off the list, like getting nice Santa chocolates and buying new pants for Ian who keeps growing. We actually got the card out this year. But yesterday wasn’t a high productivity day, because I had to drive Steve back and forth to the gastoenterologist for that horrible procedure that all 50-year olds must do, if they have a family history of colon cancer.

He lost about five pounds in 24 hours. [Insert smiling poop emoji.]

I am grateful that I have a flexible job that enables me to do all those family chores, but perhaps I would be more willing to accept imperfections, if I had less freedom to manage my own time.

Since I started writing this post, I learned that one of my articles made the “most popular list of 2019” for the 74. Also, I sold the marching band article to a great place. And I sold another book on my Etsy shop.

So, I’m going to take a breather. The special ed moms in town are having a luncheon at a fancy steak place around here. I can’t have a glass of wine with them because all the other nonsense in my day, but I can bullshit for a while and put on a cute outfit.

Hope you’re all keeping sane. I’ll be back before the end of the week.